Female pilots, mechanics and fight attendants greeted more than 40 girls ages 6-17 with a first-class glance at what it’s like to be a woman in aviation as part of the airline’s “Fly Like A Girl” campaign.
“We really want to promote STEM and access for girls to become future aviators,” said Ursula Hurley, vice president of the JetBlue Foundation, which aims to introduce underprivileged girls to careers in the aviation industry — particularly those fields where they are significantly underrepresented.
Only 7% of commercial airline pilots are women and fewer than 2.4% of aircraft mechanics are women, according to industry and federal statistics.
Women struggle to find their footing in the science, technology, engineering and math fields compared to their male counterparts — 78% of school-aged girls have an interest in STEM, yet women only make up 25% of STEM jobs, according to U.S. Dept. of Commerce data.
At JetBlue, the statistics mirror the nationwide data — and executives said they hope programs like this will encourage more women’s careers to take flight.
“We hope we can spark an interest here because if someone has a passion, they’ll have a great life,” said Rachel McCarthy, head of talent and learning at JetBlue.
Girls from across Massachusetts toured a 190-seat Airbus A321, learned about the knobs, buttons and instruments in the cockpit and learned about the mechanics of plane engines, something 17-year-old Adrialys Aponte of Worcester said was an opportunity unlike any other.
“I’ve never been on a plane before,” she said, reclining in the first-class seat in JetBlue’s Mint cabin.
Aponte isn’t sure what she wants to do after she graduates from high school next spring, but she said she was grateful for the opportunity to learn about the aviation industry.
“I like to know how things work,” Aponte said.
Nine-year-old Tatyana Cain of Lynn wanted to know “why its so expensive” to sit in first class.
“You get what you pay for,” a flight attendant told the elementary school student.
Many of the girls attending Saturday’s event were from a Girls Inc. of Worcester program that teaches young women leadership skills and gives them the tools to pursue careers in STEM.
“We want to expand their minds and show them they can do just about anything. Our girls are the leaders of the future,” program director Brenda Nikas-Hayes said. The JetBlue Foundation awarded Girls Inc. of Worcester a $50,000 grant to help with travel costs to events like the one on Saturday and to help them set up a partnership with Bridgewater State University, which has an aviation program.
Many of the young women involved in Girls Inc. programs are first-generation college students from low-income backgrounds, Nikas-Hayes said.
“I owe Girls Inc. for becoming who I am today,” said flight attendant Karol Nina, a Dominican immigrant. “It taught me to open my mind. There are so many things you can do.”
Six-year-old Maia Bhangoo of Wellesley said she could see herself working in the aviation industry when she grows up.
“I would be snack person,” she said, referring to the flight attendants who toured her around the inside the of the airplane.